Jackson Heights


Jackson Heights is a community within Queens, one of the boroughs of New York City. In the documentary of the same name an official (probably the mayor) early in the film says that Jackson Heights is the most diverse community in the world. It certainly IS diverse.

One scene is Muslims in mosque listening to a speech at the beginning of Ramadan. Another is Muslim children in a madrasseh learning Arabic script. Then an LGBT support group, a synagogue in which Jewish people are performing a ritual memorializing the Holocaust, a group of Spanish speaking small business owners complaining about a group called the Business Improvement Department(?) the people think is trying to displace them in favor of national franchises, a gay pride group (complete with a very skillful gay marching band) sponsored by BID.

There’s a scene of a woman in the Housing Authority fielding a call from someone making a complaint, two groups of elderly women chatting (one group in a nursing home, another in a restaurant), a transgender support group, a committee (schoolboard?) consulting with an authority about a problem with local public schools, Muslims butchering fowls according to Islamic law, a woman telling how her sister managed to illegally cross the border and survive, a large Spanish-speaking church (maybe cathedral) filled with people, a group of Hindus performing a ritual, a farmer’s market, a gay bar….and always in the background car or train noises.

How can it be that so many different kinds of people can live so close together without serious problems all the time? Of course there are ordinary problems all the time, but if there were intractable problems between different races, religions, and orientations, one might expect perpetual war between them all, and that’s not what happens. People manage to live together.

Not because they’re all wealthy. Queens isn’t one of the really wealthy boroughs, and Jackson Heights isn’t a particularly wealthy community. It wouldn’t be inconceivable that community life in such a diverse area could turn into a zero-sum game, a war of all against all. That it hasn’t suggests that government in the area has been doing something right. Of course it’s fashionable to say that government is the problem rather than the solution, but without government how do people manage to live together? Historically, when government has been weak, anarchy is the result, which isn’t good for many people (especially ordinary people), and anarchy is often followed by totalitarianism. But the film suggests that ordinary people don’t don’t pick fights with each other much, whatever the reason.

The environment is just about all urban. Nature is present, but contained, if not overwhelmed. We see people in a bar watching a soccer match, but don’t see any athletic activity outdoors, though there must be some.

It’s not like the film tries to paint a complete picture of the community, either. That would be impossible. A Catholic service is shown, but no Protestant or Orthodox churches. We see few east Asians or Eastern Europeans, though I’d guess they were present too.

We don’t know the future of the community, but given the situation, the picture is pretty positive.



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